Politics

Trudeau to meet federal party leaders to talk support for French Canadians in wake of Ford cuts

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with the leaders of the other federal political parties Wednesday to discuss what can be done to support French Canadians in the wake of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent cuts.

Meeting will also address concerns for French Canadians in other provinces

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's recent cuts to francophone services in Ontario were the catalyst for the meeting of federal party leaders. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with the leaders of the four other main federal political parties Wednesday to discuss what can be done to support French Canadians in the wake of Ontario Premier Doug Ford's recent cuts.

The session was mentioned in Trudeau's daily itinerary report, which said only that the prime minister was meeting to discuss "issues facing the Canadian Francophonie" with the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, the Green Party's Elizabeth May, the Conservatives' Andrew Scheer and the interim leader of the Bloc Québécois, Mario Beaulieu.

A senior government official speaking on background told CBC that the Wednesday afternoon meeting is being held in response to cuts the Ford government made to some French language services in Ontario.

"I'm looking forward to meeting with all the different party leaders to talk about how we need to, at the federal level, be united and above partisanship in terms of how we're going to defend official-language minorities across the country," Trudeau said.

In its fall economic update, Ford's government announced it would be cancelling a plan to build a long-awaited French-language university in Toronto and would be abolishing the position of the French language services commissioner.

Last week, after widespread criticism, Ford backed down to a degree, sticking to his decision to cancel the French-language university but restoring the position of a French language services commissioner under the province's ombudsman. 

He also named Attorney General Caroline Mulroney as a new minister of francophone affairs and said he would hire a senior policy adviser responsible for francophone affairs.

Trudeau's meeting will also address the concerns of francophones in other provinces - including New Brunswick, Canada's only official bilingual province, where the new Progressive Conservative government has just one elected francophone member.

Reaching out

Following Ford's cuts, Scheer himself was accused by some critics of failing to swiftly condemn them or demand that they be reversed.

On Monday morning, Scheer's office sent Trudeau a letter requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the issue.

The Prime Minister's Office welcomed the idea, according to the government official, and invited other party leaders to attend as well.

The official also argued that the Trudeau PMO has made a point of reaching out to the opposition in the past — most recently on the renegotiation of NAFTA and the imposition of U.S. tariffs on Canadian goods and resources.

A spokesperson for Scheer said the Conservative leader wants "to discuss what role the federal government can play in supporting provinces deliver services to minority languages communities."

"We think minority language rights are too important to be a partisan issue and we expect Mr. Trudeau to join us in a spirit of co-operation," said Brock Harrison in an email.

Happy to help

The Green Party's Elizabeth May said her policy has always been that when a prime minister asks for help she is happy to lend a hand, as she did when she answered a similar call for former prime minister Stephen Harper. 

"I am very concerned about what Ford has threatened to do to the rights of Franco-Ontarians," she said. "I am happy to offer whatever help or advice is called for in the circumstances to protect minority rights."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said there is a federal role in saving the university, first announced by the previous Ontario Liberal government in 2017, but wouldn't say if that should include financing the project.

"This is very important to Francophonie across Canada, it's incredibly important to Franco-Ontarians, and it would be an incredible signal of how important we take French language to have the largest city in the country have a francophone university," Singh said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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